This year’s High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) opened on Tuesday July 5, 2022, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The meeting’s first session will close on Thursday July 7, before reconvening from Monday July 11 to Friday July 15.
In its 10 years of running, the HLPF has functioned as the main UN platform on sustainable development, performing the function of reviewing the progress of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that aim to address the major issues facing humanity. The SDGs were unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly — i.e., by all 193 UN member states — in 2015 and meant to guide national policies until 2030.
Subsequently, all UN Member States and civil society organisation representatives participate in the HLPF, which meets under the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
“Building back better from COVID-19 while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”
The #GlobalGoals are facing some serious global challenges.
— UN ECOSOC President (@UNECOSOC) July 5, 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic caused great, unforeseen obstruction to reaching the SDGs, disrupting all walks of life, industry, and society.
Now, with less than eight years until the SDGs are supposed to be met, focusing on how to recover from the pandemic whilst accelerating the implication of the sustainable development agenda is crucial, and therefore also an obvious choice for the theme of this year’s HLPF.
The forum will explore the extent to which the pandemic has impacted efforts to implement the framework, with particular in-depth reviews on SDGs 4 (quality education), 5 (gender equality), 14 (life below water), 15 (life on land) and 17 (partnerships for the goals).
In the opening session, speakers highlighted challenges that were unforeseen when the SDGs were adopted in 2015, expressing concern over the setbacks since the last in-person HLPF in 2019.
ECOSOC President Collen Vixen Kelapile noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and reversed progress on many SDGs.
The overarching sentiment was that governments must act now to save lives and foster sustainable change across their societies, many of which are dealing with continuing conflicts, rising energy costs, fuel shortages, the economic insecurity caused by COVID-19 limiting developing countries’ growth, food crises, increasing climate change impacts and education inequality,
Talking stock provided the opportunity for hope through more cooperation
The opening session also saw optimism in the improved resilience of global socioeconomic and health systems and the opportunity to make the structural reforms we need, and mobilise the financial resources required for a sustainable recovery that advances the SDGs.
Kelapile said that the pandemic had served as a “wake-up call” to tackle fundamental societal problems, providing an opportunity to build back better under the 2030 Agenda as a blueprint, stating:
“The pressure is on, and the expectations are weighing heavily upon us […] We can, and we shall overcome our challenges.”
UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed summarised the main messages from the annual Voluntary National Review process (VNRs) for this year’s HLPF: The pandemic setbacks, conflicts, climate change, education, health care and economic outcomes have affected women and children in particular.
However, the VNRs also show many countries introducing innovative policies for growth, such as national resilience plans, social protection measures, digital economy expansion, agriculture education and legislation advances.
Overall, the review asserts that the SDGs are a valuable measure for both tracking and encouraging efforts to achieve sustainable development.
ECOSOC Vice President Suriya Chindawongse stressed that for a harmonised sustainable planet, “All voices should be heard” and that “Coordination is everything.”
Chindawongse’s message was thus that a harmonious UN can achieve the mutually reinforcing SDGs and advance sustainable development. Chindawongse congratulated the countries institutionalising the social protection measures put in place during the pandemic as well as those strengthening their health systems, and turning to a nature-positive economy.
These actions are important for increasing global immunity, protecting health systems, and reducing the risk of new pandemics to allow countries to properly recover. But there was no denying that more determination, solidarity, and innovation is needed for new solutions for a peaceful and prosperous cooperative world.
The need for economic growth is complicated, and time is very limited
Dean of the Climate Change and Environmental Research institute at LSE, Nicholas Stern, focused on the fight for climate change requiring more effective economic growth. Whilst crises can force countries to rethink production and consumption patterns and innovate for well-being, more financial investments are still needed in developing countries for specific sectors to revive emerging markets.
Overall, the feeling left was urgency. SDG Advocate Kailash Satyarthi insisted that “We have to act with a sense of urgency,” referencing the alarming figure that only 0.13% of the $12 trillion outlined in the G7 Global Agenda for Action was allocated to low-income countries. Priorities must change.
Delegates also discussed “Financing a robust crisis response and investing in the SDGs
Delegates focused on the Secretary-General’s report on SDG progress, which outlines the economic process for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
The main takeaways from this were the need to address vaccine inequality; prioritise low-carbon recovery; reform the international financial and debt architecture; renew social protection schemes to deliver global public goods; and generate useful, solid data.
The example of the Russia-Ukraine war driving food, energy and migration issues, disrupting global trade and slowing growth means a transformation of international finance mechanisms is needed for countries to have more financial flexibility.
Participants shared solutions to enable recovery from the pandemic. Director of Sustainable Development at Columbia University Jeffrey Sachs called for negotiated peace between Russia and Ukraine, “truly global cooperation” to end the pandemic, and a dramatic increase in official development financing.
Finland’s Minister for Education Li Andersson stressed the need to invest in education, foster the potential of innovation, and enhance efforts towards gender parity, while the World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus proposed the creation of a global architecture for emergency healthcare.
Panels this week also convened on:
- Mobilising and sharing science, technology, and innovation for an SDG-driven recovery, which focused on improving international cooperation to facilitate benefit-sharing and data access, demonetising knowledge generation, and bridging the digital divide
- Capacity development and partnerships to maximise the benefits of science, technology, and knowledge for sustainable development, where speakers touched on the role of public-private partnerships (PPPs) in relieving SDG financing pressures and the importance of engaging youth stakeholders
- SDG 4 – Quality education, where the impact of COVID-19 was reviewed ahead of the Transforming Education Summit this September.
- SDG 5 – Gender equality
- SDG 14 – Life below water, which built on the recent UN ocean conference
The HLPF 2022 is covering crucial topics and pinpointing issues in the movement towards reaching the SDGs
If the conference continues in this comprehensive format, the HLPF 2022 should all in all provide important political leadership, guidance, and recommendations on the policies and cooperation that are necessary to overcome the pandemic and be back on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030. This annual review format is also important for maintaining ECOSOC and nations’ constant SDG accountability as part of the UN.
According to the IPCC 2022, countries are still struggling to find the appropriate response to the pandemic and its socio-economic impacts and at the same time make progress on achieving the SDGs. Action is therefore needed to boost long-term investments in the SDGs, create new jobs and support transitions to carbon neutrality and environmental sustainability alongside pandemic recovery. Hopefully, the HLPF will highlight the immediate actions that countries should consider to address this.
From the first three days of the meeting, the HLPF has not yet reached any published, concrete conclusions, but speakers have broadcast an overall urgent, yet positive message: that crises can be an opportunity for momentous change.
The HLPF will reconvene next week, before concluding in the final HLPF 2022 debrief on July 18, which will direct where the 2030 agenda goes from here.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Flags outside the United Nations headquarters, New York Featured Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.